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Coronavirus: More than 140,000 firms have applied for the state to pay the wages of a million workers

Coronavirus: More than 140,000 firms have applied for the state to pay the wages of a million workers

Chancellor Rishi Sunak

3 min read

More than 140,000 firms have applied for the Government to pay the wages of one million of their workers, Rishi Sunak has revealed.

The Chancellor announced the initial take-up of the coronavirus job retention scheme amid fresh evidence that the UK is winning its fight against the disease.

Under the emergency arrangement, the state will cover 80% of the wages of workers who have been furloughed by their bosses as a result of the crisis, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

The scheme opened at 8am on Monday morning, with HMRC claiming it had the capability to handle 450,000 applications an hour.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Sunak said: "As of 4pm this afternoon, over 140,000 firms have applied, and the grants they’ll receive will help pay the wages of more than a million people.

"A million people who, if they hadn’t been furloughed, would have been at risk of losing their job."

The Chancellor said those applying today will get their money within six working days.

He added: "I expect those numbers to continue to increase in the coming days."

His comments came as the latest Department of Health and Social Care figures revealed that a total of 16,509 people have now died in UK hospitals from Covid-19.

That was an increase of 449 on the previous day - the first time it has been that low since 6 April.

The data also showed a fall in the number of people in UK hospitals suffering from the disease.

But Mr Sunak insisted it was still too early to talk about lifting the lockdown which has been in place for nearly a month.

"Right now the most important thing we can do for the health of our economy is to protect the health of our people," he said.

"We must continue to slow the spread of the virus to make sure fewer people need hospital treatment at any one time and protect the NHS’s ability to cope."

Earlier, the Prime Minister's spokesman had also played down talk of the lockdown being eased soon.

"The big concern is a second peak," he said. "That is what ultimately will do the most damage to health and the economy.

"If you move too quickly then the virus could begin to spread exponentially again. The public will expect us to do everything we can to stop the spread of the virus and protect life."

Responding to the figures, Dan Tomlinson, Economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The sheer scale of applications for the Government’s Job Retention Scheme on its opening day shows just how badly the scheme is needed.

"Without firms having the option to furlough staff, Britain could be facing the prospect of totally unprecedented numbers of people being unemployed. The claims made today alone are set to cost at least £4.2 billion if staff are furloughed for three months.

He added: "The demand today also indicates that the new IT system has managed to cope with significant claims.

"The next challenge is to make sure the payments to firms get made as swiftly as possible, as the scheme is very much on the frontline of protecting both firms and family incomes amid a huge economic crisis.”

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